Eric Cressey is a highly sought-after coach for athletes at all levels, from juniors in youth sport, right through to the professionals, and the Olympic ranks. He's essentially the go to guy for anyone that wants to achieve at their highest level of performance. Eric is perhaps best known for his extensive work with baseball players, with more than one hundred professional players, traveling to train with him at his off-sites during the off season. An accomplished author, Eric has authored over 500 published articles and is a competitive powerlifter, holding several state, national and world records.
Eric Cressey (@ericcressey)is a highly sought-after coach for athletes at all levels and perhaps best known for his extensive work with baseball players, with more than one hundred professional players and coaches traveling to train in his facilities.
We chat to Eric about his approach to coaching, starting his business and what it takes to deliver results as a coach, athlete and entrepreneur.
In this episode we cover:
Selected links and books from the episode
Where to find Eric Cressey
Gary Bertwistle: Eric, welcome to the Inspiring Lives Podcast.
Eric Cressey: Thank you very much for having me.
Gary Bertwistle: Just to start us off Eric, when you think about the Eric Cressey brand, how would you describe it?
Eric Cressey: You know, that's a great question. I think it's a little bit of a moving target, because I think when you first start out in any industry, you're just trying to build a successful business.
And I think we see a lot of people that put the carriage in front of the horse, and for us, we started out trying to build a successful business, and what we realized was that when we looked at our Caller ID in the office, a lot of times we were seeing even more calls from nationwide area codes, as opposed to just local area codes.
We realized without even knowing it, that we had accidentally kind of built something with more national and international appeal, so we kind of created this brand that now has to be managed over two facilities and with a strong internet presence.
So I think it's changed very dramatically from trying to deliver the highest quality baseball specific training to people in our geographic area, but now being kind of an industry thought leader, in terms of delivering that same service on a larger scale to more athletes. But just as importantly, we're trying to teach the teachers. Where we're educating other professionals about how to care for multimillion dollar arms, and 12 year old kids who just want to stay healthy and enjoy the sport as well. So it's very much a moving target.
Gary Bertwistle: We're going to talk about the journey of building the company and what you do. I guess it's interesting for people ... All of us go through a stage where we may consider doing our own thing, whether it be a side hustle or building a business, as you've done.
And the name of the company, always comes up as one of the things to think about. What will I call my business? And you have built your business around you as a brand.
You now have two facilities and you now have a lot of guys working for you. Was that a good move for you? Would you do that again, to use your name in the brand?
Eric Cressey: I actually say it's the single biggest mistake I've made in business. I say it almost every week, when people ask us. If I could go back in time, that would be the absolute first thing I would change.
And what happened was, I was a one man show when we first got going. I was actually an independent contractor and for the first nine months or so. I was in Boston, it was just Eric Cressey. And we got some momentum, we trained some local athletes and things really took off.
And so we capitalized on that and allowed us to get off the ground quicker. But the thing I never realized is that, when you start a new business, you've got to think about putting the systems in place that are going to make it successful when it's 100 times as big, right?
And so for us, by putting my name on the business, instantly, I devalued the abilities of all employees for the rest of history. Whether that's an administrative side of things, a business director. You know, when people call the office, "Well, why am I not talking to Eric?" There would be that side of things.
And then all of our coaches, are wildly proficient and in the majority of cases they're better than me in the specific skill set, but because they're name isn't Eric Cressey, they're automatically received as inferior.
So as a result of putting my name on the business, we've had to work really, really hard to build up the rest of the people on the team. Not because they need to be built up, but because we had to create that for higher perception of value because I had actually devalued them, by accident. And it's not fair because they're amazingly qualified people that work with me every day.
Gary Bertwistle: And if I talk about your identity just for a second, if I take you back, it's the day after Thanksgiving, and you're twin daughters were born. Black Friday.
Eric Cressey: Yeah.
Gary Bertwistle: And that day, your wife said, "You need to go work out." Because your wife knows and said that, "If you don't work out, I know what you're like."
And, I guess you've built your brand and your identity around the workout. And my question is, and it's such an important part of you as a man and obviously you as a husband, you in the workplace.
Do you think we should in someway all have an identity, where working out is actually part of our identity., That it's that strong that others should say, "You need to go do it." Because it just seems with the health and wellness of the world right now, it's being pushed aside because it's not a priority. In some ways, should it become part of our identity, where it's a non-negotiable?
Eric Cressey: You know, I think you could actually make the claim for it. You know, because I think ... And certainly I'm twisted from my powerlifting background. I mean, I went like nine years without missing a planned training session and our babies were born on Black Friday morning and on Sunday, like you said, my wife told me, "Get out of this hospital. Go to the gym, and workout. I know how you get." So that, in and of itself, is probably a little bit extreme, taking those few days off.
There's two answers to that question. The first thing I would say is that, I really ascribe to something Randi Zuckerburg said. She gave an interview, I think it was to like, Entrepenuer.com or wherever it was. She made a comment where there are five things, right? There's family, there's fitness, there's sleep, there's career and there is ... what's the fifth one? I'm losing my mind. ... So family, friends, career, fitness and sleep, are the five, and you have to pick three.
And I've found that to be entirely true. And for me, like obviously family is first, I take fitness very seriously. It's sometimes a part of my day, and obviously career's been important to me.
So, friends and the sleep aspect are the things that I struggle with. Most of our friends come through the gym, through my work in baseball. So I can kind of maybe double dip a little bit and get three and a half. But, what I think is really, really significant about that discussion that leads to my second point, is it's the only thing in that mix that has a trickle down effect to everything else, is the fitness one.
You know, certainly if you sleep better you're going to be more cordial to your family and your friends. I see fitness as something that you take advantage of so you can be a better husband, you can be a better dad, you can have more of life experiences with your friends and all that. So you can have robust enough health to be able to support career initiatives, things like that.
So, sleep and fitness kind of tend to have a little bit of a trickle down effect, that I don't know if you get from the rest of it.
Gary Bertwistle: It's interesting when you think back to your powerlifting career, and you just said, "Nine odd years, never missed a workout." And I have heard people say, that you have built a great reputation around work ethic.
And you hear people saying, "Yes, you can have your dreams. Yeah, but you've got to work hard, yeah you got to put in, you gotta put the hours in." You hear all that, but in listening to you being interviewed and your writing, I guess what I'm after, can you really qualify what that means? Because we hear it talked about a lot, but what does ... In the Eric Cressey world, having a work ethic, explain actually how do we do that? What does that look like in your world?
Eric Cressey: Yeah. The first thing I would say is, that I'm not sure that it's been celebrated in the past. My business partner kind of jokes about it, but I'm not sure it should always be celebrated, right? Sometimes that's just a fundamental flaw, where I can't turn it off. You know, my brain gets going and you know, those are the times where you wake up at two in the morning and are staring off into blackness, thinking about all the things that you want to do, or have to do.
So I think sometimes work ethic is maybe over celebrated, and there's certainly shortcomings in that regard. But you know, I'm not sure it's as easy to quantify as people realize, because I know that different people I've interacted with, that have been extremely successful, work much, much differently.
Like John Berardi, who built that Precision Nutrition is a real close friend, and you know, John has been wildly successful and he's probably the guy that has this concept of balance figured out, the best of the people I know, right? John is a guy who can really stratify his day, he's a great dad and husband, but at the same time he's building this, nine figure company that's been very, very successful.
I'm not good at that, but I still like we've been successful. I can work towards that, but most of the people I see are really successful and the people I aspire to work towards, are the ones that kind of compartmentalize things. They're not just always on all the time, and that's where work ethic comes in. They’re more of the people, they set deadlines, they rigidly adhere to them and they quarantine their schedule so they don't get caught up in mundane stuff from day-to-day that can distract them from them.
So, what I can tell you though, is where I've learned the most in the context of work ethic is, when we had twins. So I'll give you an example: our daughters were born on November 28th, 2014. What a lot of people don't know about that is we actually opened our new gym on November 2nd, 2014.
So we had a brand new gym that was 26 days old, when we had those kids. So I moved my wife to Florida at seven months pregnant, and we jumped into just a world of craziness, and my mother-in-law bailed us out like crazy with helping out and stuff like that.
But my days when our twins were born with a brand new facility was, basically I would be up at 5:00AM to do as much work as I could between 5:00 and 7:30. I'd be helping out with the babies from basically 7:30 until 8:30 or so. Then I'd go into the facility, I'd train athletes all the way through until 3:30 or 4:00 in the afternoon.
I'd usually get a quick lift in myself, and then I'd go home and I'd wash my hands and shower and basically eat dinner while holding a baby and then basically I'd sleep from 8:00PM to 12:00AM, and between 12:00AM and 5:00AM, I was, baby assistant duty. So it was literally like this crazy 24 hour cycle. It was a pot of coffee in the morning and an energy drink every afternoon at 3:00. Not something I would recommend to folks.
That life was horrible. For the first twelve weeks you love your kids, but it's not sustainable and you eventually start getting sick every week and you have to figure out how to recalibrate.
But what I learned after the fact from that, was I looked back on the time we had before we had twins, and I was not efficient at all. I was a hard worker, but I was not a smart worker. You don't realize how much time you spend just goofing around on Facebook, or how many times you get caught up in one YouTube video becomes 27 YouTube videos, or how much time you spend just wasting on like, emails. Getting stuck scrolling through Instagram or whatever it maybe.
So that's the biggest change for me, since we had our kids is, I always look at like, "Hey, somebody wants to argue with me on the internet." When I was 23, I'd jump right in and do it. Nowadays, I literally look and say, "Is this argument more important than my daughters?" And the answer is always no.
So you can't let people bait you into unproductive things. And I look at the people in our industry who have been really successful. You look at, obviously I mentioned Berardi, but even beyond that. Look at what Mark Verstegen has built at EXOS. Any of those other really, really successful people in any industry. Like, Bill Gates is not arguing on the internet, you know, it's just not productive or worth it.
Gary Bertwistle: Do you think that's in your mind, what separates the Pro from the Joe, in your mind? Because you are interacting with a lot of people, in all aspects of life, who are achieving great things. Is that the primary thing? The other thing that separates the Pro from the Joe?
Eric Cressey: I think that's a big one. You know, it's a Dan John quote, it's like, "The goal is to keep the goal as the goal." And I think people get really caught up in doing silly things that don't contribute to their end.
A lot of times you go on vacation, you come back and you've got 150 emails to get through, and then you kind of realize that 50 of them are completely not essential, and you can plow through stuff like that. So there's that.
But I think it all comes back to just, it's processes. If you set up good systems of how to do things, like our business would fail miserably, if every one of our clients tried to text me to schedule their sessions. But if they work through our front desk and the scheduling systems that we have in place, it flows incredibly smoothly.
So a lot of times, it's just about getting other people to appreciate what those systems are, what the boundaries you've drawn are, so you can kind of plan accordingly.
Gary Bertwistle: If I take you back to something I thought you said that I found really fascinating, that you said you live next door to a church, and the car park next to that church, as a kid growing up had a green patch, and that became the playground.
And what's really ironic, is that from that patch of grass in your district, it became a hotbed for coaching talent, which is really quite strange, that not just for players for the district, but for coaching talent.
When you think back to that time of your growing up and the fact that you do so much coaching today. What was a lesson that you remember as a kid, taking from that playground that you still to this day remember and use?
Eric Cressey: Absolutely. Yeah, it's interesting. So certainly my small geographic radius where I grew up with, has produced a bunch of college coaches, across many disciplines, ranging from football to lacrosse, to strength conditioning. But also our high school is kind of the geographic segment that has produced tons and tons of people. There's been like several hundred coaches that have come out of my hometown.
So there were two things, I would say. Is one, all those people that were at that church yard, were good athletes before they were good coaches. And, I think they were good athletes because they never specialized, right? There wasn't just one sport being played, it was football, it was wiffle ball, it was soccer, it was everything imaginable.
We played rugby, we played Frisbee. So there was an insane amount of variety and we know that randomized practice from a long-term motor pattern retention standpoint, tends to outperform blocked practice.
So we didn't have seasons where like, "Hey, we're going to play football every day for the next four months." It was just straight chaos every day, until our parents yelled at us to come in for dinner. And sure enough, there were multiple All-Americans in lacrosse. We had guys that are like, Nick Myers, who was the head lacrosse coach at Ohio State. Nick grew up two houses away from me. So those things were very compelling. I think we all got out, we all challenged each other.
So, there was that side of things. The other thing I would say is, after even those early, young ages, we were all outside just playing on the church yard next door. We all went to the same high school and I think back to it, we had an athletic trainer at our high school, Arlene Bear, who was someone who was just super cordial, she was kind of like one of the gang, where she always made the training room, a fun place to be. It wasn't like rehab purgatory, and she wasn't cranky. She was always unconditionally positive, and she created an environment where you literally had a bunch of people that you really weren't hurt. We'd go hang out in the training room, which was attached to the weight room.
Eric Cressey: Without even realizing it, she was nurturing this passion for sports medicine and sports performance. And serving as a role model, somebody who was unconditionally positive in our life, and really creating a culture that probably made us all think like, "Man, this is something cool. I'd love to do this for life."
And so sure enough, years later ... And this is interesting because we weren't all in the same class. This is over the course of, like Amanda Kimball's a strength coach for University of Connecticut, women's basketball. She's won multiple national championships. She was two years ahead of me. You know, there are some that are years behind me, but I look back and I try to figure out what was the commonality. But it was interesting, we all went to different universities. There were people who went to Springfield, University of Southern Maine, I went to UConn and the University of New England. Like, we went all over the place, but all wound up kind of in the same field.
So I think the big lessons are, don't specialize early, have random practice, let kids experience chaos and have fun with it and then later on just create an amazing culture that makes people enthusiastic about an area in which they feel they can make a big difference.
Gary Bertwistle: Man, that's gold. To start that piece off, you talked about the kids that came to that playground. Most of them had talent, they were talented athletes when they arrived at the playground, then they generalized random play.
Is that where it started, when you think back, is that where you started to think about, follow your talents and not follow your passion?
Eric Cressey: Yeah. You know, I don't think I actively thought about it back then. I mean, what's funny about that is, I say all those things. And I was a good athlete, not a great athlete. I was All-State in tennis, and I got recruited to play soccer in college at the Division III level. I wasn't an elite athlete by any stretch of the imagination.
In our industry, there's a lot of people like, "Man, if I'd only had this strength conditioning when I was younger, I would have been a Division I athlete. I would have been pro!" I'd be like, "I would have still been fantastically mediocre. I might have been a D-II athlete instead of a D-III athlete."
But, what was interesting was, I didn't go to college initially thinking I was going to go into this field of health and human performance. I actually went thinking I was going to be an accountant.
So it wasn't until a couple of years into my college degree that I realized that I was basically dealing with some health problems and I had a bum shoulder and lost a lot of weight. So I needed to get healthy and I realized that I was definitely more passionate about it, but what I came to realize was in the process of taking care of my own shoulder, doing all the self research and just training and training and training. I had actually built up a substantial amount of career capital.
I had a knowledge that was unique, that made this an avenue that I could pursue, particularly with it being so early in my career. I didn't just say "Well, I like to exercise. It would be cool to open a gym." And that's the mistake I think a lot of people make. Following your passion just really doesn't work. It's much more about following your marketable skills.
Gary Bertwistle: If I take you back even further to that schoolground, that church-ground, and maybe even around that. You said you grew up in a household that valued reading and writing, and you seemed to be a guy who is one of your priorities, is to continue to learn and then share.
Surely that time back then had a huge impact on your discipline and desire, and hunger for learning. Did that influence you Eric?
Eric Cressey: No doubt about it, and I've spoken about it before. So my mother is actually still the principal of the high school where I went to. And before she did that, she taught English and was the curriculum coordinator for an extended period of time.
So I grew up in schools, to a large degree. I mean, I would wake up and go to school with my mom and kill time for 45 to 60 minutes, hang out with high school kids before I went to the bus stop, which I would get on in front of the high school where she worked.
So I walked into her classroom every day, and you would see the quotes from various books that were on the wall, you'd be around the classics. But without even realizing it, kids are impressionable, whether in a good way or a bad way, right?
So I walked in and what did I see for my entire childhood? A bunch of kids who were coming in early for extra help. You know, we were in her room at 7:30 in the morning because for whatever reason, they didn't understand something from Shakespeare or something like that. So I saw people working really, really hard.
I grew to appreciate being around the classics and doing a lot of reading and it was ... Whether I did it intentionally or not, it was something that was imprinted on me, and I think about all the different places I could have been during those hours. I could have been sitting at home watching cartoons or doing something like that. Instead, I was in an academic environment and whether that was the reason or not, I always thought I chased academic challenges.
When I was a senior in high school, I sought out the hardest English course, because I wanted someone who would really pick apart my writing and make me a better writer and my professor, Mr. Foster, I still talk to him, my senior year was probably the most impactful person in my career from a writing standpoint.
He could've just let me coast by during my senior year when I was already accepted to college and was already ranked pretty high in my class, and instead he tore my writing apart to make it better. And I just look back at all those years and I was probably preparing myself to kind of embrace that challenge.
And I think that's a lesson for a lot of our athletes is, we do a lot of really, really good baseball players who ... They're either the best player in the history of their town, they've never struggled, but the second they get to professional baseball, they automatically are surrounded by a bunch of other lead athletes and it can be a really daunting experience.
So I always tell people, you need to not just be cognizant that failure is out there, you need to go out and find it. Because everyone of those failures is a massive learning experience.
Gary Bertwistle: Something, which I'm really fascinated by, Eric, is that I don't hear any, or not many, coaches ever talk about truly understanding how their athlete or the person they're coaching processes, new learnings.
And I've heard you say a number of times that if you're working with somebody that needs to be shown, you're happy to show them, or somebody who needs to ... they're more auditory, you'll be happy to talk them through it or someone who needs to feel on the kinesthetic learning, you will show them, and help them through the motion.
And, that's all ... It's called learning styles or accelerated learning, and that's I guess the science behind it. But, I've heard you say that a number of times. And what I want to know is, is that just intuitive or is that something that you have learned, and learned how to identify it in that person you're coaching?
Eric Cressey: I think it's both. So the first thing I would say is, it's something I'm trying to identify as I take somebody through an evaluation. Meaning, when I say to them when we're in the middle of a table assessment, "Let's get on all fours on top of the table?" And then we look to see what happens, right? Most people, 90% of the time, someone goes into hands and knees. Other times people are going to look at me like I just have two heads.
And so for me that's a quick way to assess. How quickly do these people process visual things, whereas would it have been better if I would have just demonstrated what was actually going to happen.
So in real time, I'm definitely trying to process that, because I know that if I can streamline my coaching cues to optimize in the concept of their learning approach, then I know I can be more efficient as a coach. And when you're more efficient as a coach, what does that do? A, get people the results faster, but B, and more importantly, it gives you way more opportunities to build rapport.
Because if you're not wasting time throwing a million coaching cues at them, chances are the more time you're building rapport, asking about their family, cracking jokes, whatever it is, making them comfortable in the environment. But also, you're not making them feel like they're idiots. You know, where you give them a coaching cue, they don't get it, they feel incompetent. Early on in the training process, we're trying to establish rapport and make them feel like they're successful, so we can build that relationship.
But what I will tell you though is, there are times when you could assume things. And I have this conversation with our interns, right?
So a lot of times we'll have a new intern that will come in and they'll have their first interaction with a professional athlete, and let's say that's a professional athlete that's been training with us for five or six years, who has an amazingly comprehensive ability to take on coaching cues, and they already know 98% of the exercises they would have to encounter.
The worst thing that new intern can do is say, "Well here's the exercise we're going to do. Here's how were going to do it," and they demonstrate it while talking, you know?
And then, athlete gets in there, they put their hands on and try to expose them. They've exposed them to, auditory, visual and kinesthetic cues, all at once. When really all you had to do was be like, "Hey, we're doing a split stance, low cable row. Show me what you got this" And then they jump in there, and it's 99% perfect. Maybe there's like a subtle change that needs to happen, that you could've done because it's not going to be loaded in an environment where anybody could ever get hurt.
So I always say, "Listen. Think about who you have in front of you. If this is an untrained 13 year old, you're probably going to have to be a little more creative. If it's a 25 year old athlete who's been here seven years, they don't need the full tutorial. Give them two words, and see how it looks."
So our pro guys hate it when they get over-coached, because they've already been coached up. They're at that advanced level, so a lot of times it's just a subtle tinker on the fly. You never want to slow down the training process, but that's where you have to build rapport, you have to get through to people. And we talk about it, there are people doing amazing things in this regard.
Like, Nick Winkelman on the coaching cues front has put some awesome stuff out there. I love Brett Bartholomew's stuff with Conscious Coaching and what he's trying to do from a career development standpoint for coaching. There's a new industry that's popping up in terms of just how to communicate with athletes that I think is very compelling.
Gary Bertwistle: If I tie a few threads together, and I'll see if I can collect my thoughts. It's funny when I hear you talk about, "Hey, jump on. Let's see what you've got," and then 99% right, and there's a 1% improvement, and you've got an instructor there that can change that.
It makes me think about how many of us, who don't have a professional coach, who go to the gym, and spend our time in the gym, and are inefficient because we don't really understand the dynamics of an exercise yet. We go and we do it, but we're not being correct with what we're doing, so probably not maximizing.
Gary Bertwistle: Because back in the day if you went to a gym, chances are there'd be somebody walking the floor all the time, being able to not just spot you, but also correct something or help, or answer a question.
Today it's 24 hour gyms, they're not staffed, there's nobody there. And if I take you back to what you said a few moments ago, there's a wonderful word that Mr. Foster taught you, which was chase academic challenges.
It almost sounds to me, that may not be fortunate enough to have somebody like you standing next to us, but then the resource that you put on YouTube, it's almost like we need to chase the academic challenge of saying, "How do I do, a pull down correctly? Let me study and tutor myself." It's kind of, I guess a way things have changed over the years, isn't it?
Eric Cressey: Yeah, no doubt about it. I think you're right. I often joke, if we needed a contract written up, we hire a lawyer. If we need our taxes done we hire an accountant. But if we need to get healthy and fit, we do it ourselves.
You know, and I don't want to overstate the importance of personal trainers in this world, because unfortunately it's very low barrier to entry industry. But, I do think there's something to be said about our body is our most precious commodity, right?
And you can do a lot of harm. Look at any just Google search for lawsuits against personal trainers, for some of the dumb things people do to really hurt people. ... Reduce their quality of life, but create a really, really negative kind of association with exercise, and that's a huge, huge problem.
But, I do think more people could use direction in that regard. Unfortunately, you walk into any commercial gym, you can definitely see a collection of very bad techniques and all that stuff. So, it's nice now that folks do have more opportunities to kind of do some self study online, somewhere now you can go to LegalZoom and get a contract written up. It's templated, things like that, instead of having to go and spend $600 on a lawyer.
But, some things are very complex. A lot of people are symptomatic where if it's a cranky shoulder or a bad low back or something along those lines, so I think it's all relative to the individual.
Gary Bertwistle: You said that on the first day ... Or say an intern starts with you, on the first day you apply the 80/20 principle, where you only talk for 20 percent of the session. Now, I've never heard the 80/20 put into that context before. Just run that for us. Why do you do that and how do you do it?
Eric Cressey: Yeah. I think the first thing that I do is, I make sure that people feel like they've been heard. I think that's a really, really important thing and I think that a lot of people don't ever appreciate, is if you look at what we experience with. Particularly if you think about the nature of professional baseball, there's a lot of players, and not many coaches. The support staff is not, us.
I mean, I couldn't tell you what it is, but you look at athletic trainers, skill coaches, strength conditioning coaches, all those things. There's definitely way more players than there are coaches. So invariably what you have, is you have very, very limited opportunities for interaction. Coaches may just bark orders and never actually have an opportunity for players to give feedback.
And what I've solicited feedback from our players over the years. One of the things that they've always wanted to ... They've always reaffirmed every time I ask, and I do this on my own podcast. I always say, "Hey, what are the qualities of the coaches that have been the most impactful for you?" And literally 90% of the time, people say they're great communicators. They listen, they give me input on my career, success and all that.
So I want to feel like we're giving people those platforms to be advocates for themselves, because I know that if I'm teaching them to be assertive in our realm, then that same level of assertiveness will help them once they're back with their teams or in their colleges, or whatever it is where they can kind of stand up for what they believe in and what's worked well for them.
So, I want to nurture that a lot. And it really comes down to ... I have some questions that I want answered, because those are the things that are going to give me the insights I need in order to write good programs and all that.
But, at the same time I'm never going to stop them if I feel like they're going a little bit off the reservation in terms of telling stories and all that. I want to nurture their ability to feel like they're at home and they can actually share whatever they want to share.
Gary Bertwistle: And you do share a lot of information, and I suspect that creative outputs require creative inputs. So you are taking a lot of stuff in from books, videos, scientific papers, other coaches, your interns, podcasts. How does Eric Cressey curate learnings?
Because it's been said you have an encyclopedic knowledge of exercise physiology. How do you curate your stuff, Eric? How do you keep it, line it up, find it again? What's your process?
I think it's definitely a moving target. I'll say that ... I would say that a huge chunk of what I do now, is auditory nature. So I'll listen to audio books, I'll listen to a lot of podcasts. But honestly, what I'll do more than anything is I'll call other coaches. That's one thing that's been very, very nice.
There is actually another John Berardi line is, he answered on a round table discussion at an event in Seattle just recently that, if I have something I want to learn about, I'll figure out who the expert is and I'll call and offer to pay them for their time so I can ask the specific questions I want.
So I think I've gotten better at asking specific questions, and leveraging my network when I want information. So for me, if I want to learn about an elbow, I'll go call an elbow specialist and I'll sit in on a surgery and I'll ask the questions I want.
Selfishly, that's one of the reasons why I started the podcast. You know, I can ask the experts the questions I want to ask, and I can learn and pick things up that way. I'd say less than ever am I just sitting down and opening a book. No, if I'm opening a book, it's going to be much more of a training side of things. It's going to be a textbook. I've got a book sitting on my desk sitting here right now, it's Baseball Sports Medicine from Chris Ahmad and Anthony Romeo, where chapter 7 is Epicondylitis and Baseball Players, really deep and nerdy stuff. Whereas a lot more of my audio stuff tends to be more along the lines of business development, leadership, things along those lines.
And a couple times a month, I dig in really deep on PubMed, where I'll just go and I'll type in sports medicine, or baseball injuries or something in particular, and dig really deep into that rabbit hole and read 8 to 10 journal articles and figure out some of that newer research.
So, it goes in a lot of different directions, but I'll tell you this. The single most important part of my professional development has to do with having an awesome staff around me. When for some reason there's a scenario where I have to refer out, I have physical therapists in both facilities, I just basically walk across the room and say, "Hey, this guy's got this going on." We get a chance to put our heads together to take care of him, and then also when we refer out to doctors, I always read the visit notes, try to get post-op reports, look at MRI findings. Whatever I possibly can, you never get dumber from reading something. So, I just try to take advantage of every bit of information that's available to me.
Gary Bertwistle: And if I talk about you having an awesome team around you, you said that you hire for fit, not for talent. What is the right fit? How would you describe the attributes of the right fit within your organization?
Eric Cressey: Yeah, there are a couple things I would say. We hire based on competency and fit. I know that I can teach just about anybody what they need to be competent in this environment. What I can't teach you is fit. And I'll give you an example.
Several years ago, we had basically a player who was drafted, was a high ranking pick by a major league baseball organization. We hosted his draft party at our house. There were 120 people at my house, we hired caterers, the whole nine yards. There's a bunch of food, on the first ... The second the food was ready, one of our interns ran to the front of the line and served himself first. You know there's the whole mindset of leaders eat last and all this stuff, but literally he was like a first week intern on the job. That's something that I can't fix, I mean if you're 24 years old and you don't know that like let the guests eat first, like if that doesn't pop to the front of your brain, I'm not sure I could ever teach you that.
So, he might've been a wildly competent coach, but just from a fit standpoint, I'm like, "This guy is always looking out for number one first." And it's something that's stood out of my mind ever since every time his name comes up. That's too bad because he actually would be super proficient on that side of things. But, I know he wouldn't have ever been a really great fit from a cultural standpoint.
So, what we actually do is we hire exclusively from our internship program, and the reason we hired from our internship program it's because it's a three to five month kind of trial run. Where we know, "Hey, we built them to a base level of competency, where we know that they're going to be in a great spot." But more importantly, we evaluate, A, how do they fit with our team? Do our other coaches get along with them? How do they treat my office manager? Do they have a spring in their step where they go up and they great clients at the door? They find out about clients families. Like how do they communicate with people all those things, and we also look at a growth mindset. A growth mindset for me is a big part of how we evaluate fit, like do they fail forward? Meaning, if there's a time where we have to give them constructive feedback, do they eat it up and make big improvements? Or, do they internalize it and they shy away from that feedback? Or even worse, or do they butt heads with us, and say, "No, you're wrong."?
That's a really, really big challenge. So we want to know that we have people who, A, mesh really, really well with our environment. And then, B, are open to the ideas of improving and they realize that these subtle failures that you encounter all the time on the job are going to be things that basically make you better long-term. So embrace those struggles. But, you're always going to be able to train competency, it's fit that's the problem.
Gary Bertwistle: I interviewed a friend of yours, Jay Ferruggia on the show not that long ago. And, one of the questions I asked him was how his ideals of working out and strength has changed over the years. And his reply was that he now asks himself, "What's the biological cost of his workout?"
Which I think for a lot of us is a great question to ask, and I mean being a guy who's at the top of his game, and he's a good friend of yours. Is that a question that sits in your mind as well? That when you are designs and/or working out, what's the biological cost of the workout to you?
Eric Cressey: No doubt about it. If you're not asking that question and you're training professional athletes, you're terrible at your job. Jay's generally speaking to it in the context of quality of life, right? He's at the age now where he doesn't care if he can rack 800 pounds, or whether he has traps that touch his ears. He's worried about, hey am I going to live a long life? Am I going to be able to do everything I want to do? In that side of things, and I respect that a ton.
Frankly, I'm probably at a point where I'm transitioning that a little bit more, I'm still kind of riding two horses, one saddle with a moderately still alive powerlifting career, and I still really enjoy lifting really, really heavy. But, I know that there are certainly biological factors in play right there. There's only so long that you can lift really, really heavy before your joints kind of start to give. And, I think there's the old saying like, I think it was another Dan John quote, "Like in your 20s, you Olympic lift. In your 30s you power lift. In your 40s, you're bodybuilding. In your 50s, you do whatever doesn't hurt."
And, I think that's something to be said about that, but in the context of dealing with our professional athletes, we want to make sure that if they're going to use up their bullets, they're doing it in their sport. The last thing I want to do is just train guys to be weight room rockstars and put them in harm's way. Everything that we do in the gym should improve their performance on the field, they should reduce their risk of injury, and it should improve their quality of life.
So, I always try to answer those questions, and frankly I was not good at that early in my career. I think a lot of times if your carpenter only has a hammer, everything really starts looking like a nail. So my background was obviously powerlifting, so lifting really, really heavy stuff was obviously the best way to make people better. And certainly for some people, lifting heavy stuff is very, very important, but it's not the only thing out there, and there are a lot of other qualities that you need to optimize. And I've been fortunate to get around good people, obviously Jay's one of them who have made that shift over the course of time. And I'm 38 years old, so I'm starting to have those questions, "Is it really worthwhile for me to deadlift 600 on a monthly basis?", and a few things like that.
So there's the easy answer, but it's very context dependent on how old you are and what your long-term strategies are going to be.
Gary Bertwistle: With that long-term strategy in your mind, Eric, you'd be hard pressed walking through any gym anywhere in the world right now, and not seeing somebody sit on a machine checking their socials, and spending time just scrolling.
Distractions in the gym, whilst you're in the gym, what's the real cost?
Eric Cressey: I don't know if there's a cost, maybe there's an opportunity cost, like could you be working substantially harder? But here's the thing I'll say, and this is going to sound ... I don't want it to sound condescending, but I'm not sure how I can say it without it. Here's what I'll tell you, I've been in some of the really awesome powerlifting gyms in the planet. I've been in high level college weight rooms, I've been in professional sports, weight training context.
And I've been in the scenario of like a powerlifting gym where I was like legit like 163 pound guy, who rolled out of bed every Sunday morning and went in and trained with 900 pound squatters. I was basically surrounded by people who were way, way stronger than me, like it was basically like, "If you don't show up, work your butt off, load plates, you might get…” and what I can tell you is, being around that, like it takes a special ... You got to be able to go to a really, really dark place before you put that much weight on your back, or when you step up to a bar and try to pick up 650 pounds, when you're 165 pounds.
What I'll tell you is like, I've snipped some true 10 workouts in my life. You know I'm pretty darn happy when I get in a good 7 or an 8. What I tell you, is in the general population, most people have never found a 5. Like when we look at what people go through, just because they have so many distractions and if you spend a lot of time at 6's and 7's in your training career, and you float in some 8's and 9's, and you know occasionally you have a day where you're sick and you just check some boxes and you do a 3 or a 4. It all tends to work out in the wash, but that's one of the things that I realize, is having consistent training.
I know that even on my worst day, I can come in here and I can pull 500 for 5 on a deadlift, and get a training effect, not leave in pain, all that stuff, and it's because I put in the time. If there's a lesson to a lot of the gym goers on here, like don't be stupid with your exercise selection, and don't be stupid with your technique. But, find a way to snip those higher intensities, those challenges.
And if you're someone who's like really just more interested in the like the general fitness aspect of things, find some way to do something where you strain once a week, lift something heavy. Find something that makes you do something fast, have a speed. And then, find something that makes you sweat, some kind of conditioning. You do those three things, the speed, strain and sweat, like you're probably long-term going to have some really good fitness initiatives on your side.
You're going to have work capacity, you're going to have a foundation of strength, and then you're going to have power that's going to support you well into old age. So, the question becomes, how do we play that around, right? If we're talking about straining. For some people that's bench pressing 135 pounds, or it's doing a set of six pushups if you couldn't do them, right? Or, for some people strength literally might be like doing walking lunges with 30 pound dumbbells, it's not magnificent to anybody on Instagram or anything like that. But, there could be something that pushes a little bit higher in the strength set of things.
For other people conditioning, like I can make myself really miserable on a VersaClimber and get actually thrashed. For other people, that's a walk, you know, where they actually are getting their heart rate up. For other people speed might be sprinting at full tilt and that's what I like to do, but I also know that's not appropriate for our adult client who's got an Achilles tendinopathy, maybe they're better off doing some kettlebell swings or throwing the med ball.
You can scale all those things, but if you check those three boxes on a weekly basis from a long-term health standpoint, you're going to be in a pretty good place.
Gary Bertwistle: Just on that, if we can expand that point for a bit, Eric, you said that ... I've heard you say it a few times, "People don't do well when we drink from the fire hose." Relate that back to our wellness.
Eric Cressey: Yeah, it's a great point. I think maybe where people make the biggest mistake is they try to ride too many horses with one saddle. A joke my staff would probably call that a Cresseyism, something I say too much. But, I think if you try to chase too many different initiatives, you're probably in a bad space.
What I mean with that though, when you're new to exercise, you can improve everything right? And usually the two lowest hanging fruits for untrained individuals are going to be aerobic capacity and maximal strength, right? You can get strong really quickly from neurological mechanisms even before cross-sectional area really starts happening. And work capacity is very easy to development, like go out and do some light aerobic work and you're going to get some of those adaptations that allow you to bounce back between sets, they allow you to bounce back between sessions.
I think where people get into a little bit more tricky place is once they do have that foundation of strength, all of a sudden they're trying to become insanely conditioned anaerobically, they're trying to be competitive powerlifters, they're trying to be Olympic lifters, they're trying to be awesome in some sport. So all of a sudden they just wind up becoming really mediocre at one.
So understanding how to prioritize certain fitness qualities throughout the year are really, really important. Particularly when you're trying to distribute stress accordingly, right? Most people in their 40s can just go into an Olympic lift all year round, they probably need some breaks from it, unless they got a really, really pristine technique and build an insane amount of work capacity to get to that point.
Gary Bertwistle: You seem like the type of guy that if you were coaching somebody, you are completely with them, and you are looking to learn from them as much as you are to impart information. And I'm just curious ... What's a leadership lesson that you have actually taken from one of your clients that you've implemented into your world that's had a profound impact on your success?
I'll give you actually a good one. He's kind of a client, it's our landlord at our Massachusetts facility. Jim's a great guy, he's in his 80s and really has been really supportive of us. He said to me one day, he's like, "Remember, your clients hire and fire you, every day." And it was something that really, really stuck out with me. Was that nobody cares if you're having a bad day, like ... And that's something that I feel like if you really want to talk about competitive edge. Yes, we can talk about how well I know the shoulder, or our synergy, or our network, the analytics we do and all that stuff in respect to baseball.
But, I think the biggest thing is that I don't want our clients to know when I'm having a bad day. I always want to put a happy face on, I always want to feel like they're getting access to the expertise, they're getting the time of day that they deserve. They're getting the attention to detail that we really worked hard to create a standard of excellence. And I don't think you're allowed to have bad days when you're an entrepreneur. And, I don't think you should be allowed to have bad days in any scenario when you're providing a service.
It's different when you're talking about being the owner of the business versus being an employee of the business. Because an owner, I can never expect my employees to care about my business as much as I do. That will actually never happen. People who are obviously closest to that is my wife, my business partner, they're at that level, right? Where they're kind of on the same level, but I can't expect an hourly employee or somebody who's on salary to just automatically appreciate that.
But, the goal is to not have bad days. Nobody cares if your life is tough, nobody cares if your knee hurts. Nobody cares about anything else. They care about what you can do for them, and you need to show that every single day.
Gary Bertwistle: Just to finish us up, Eric, because I'm conscious of your time. A few months back, I interviewed a guy called James Kerr and he wrote a book called Legacy, and it is...
Eric Cressey: Amazing book.
Gary Bertwistle: Amazing book, a cracking book, a must ready for all of us. And he's a guy who just doesn't waste a word. And he's got such a depth of stories and knowledge and the book, Eric, I was going to tell you in a minute is all about going behind the curtain of the world's most winningest team, called the All Blacks who played Rugby. With an 80% winning record over 100 years.
It's a book that you have at the top of your list to recommend as a read for people. I'm curious, you loved the book, if there was ... And it's a great book about culture and leadership, and ownership, and performance. What's the one lesson that you took from Legacy that you've implemented that had a big impact on you?
Eric Cressey: Yeah, absolutely. You know what I would always say? It's actually one of the first ones in that book. "Sweep the sheds", right? You're never too big for anything. And that's a hard lesson, I think, for a lot of entrepreneurs to appreciate. You know what that means is that it's very, very compelling to say, "I'm going to go back in before and after with my staff. And all of a sudden they're going to realize that I'm working really, really hard with them." And certainly there are times to do that.
What I also know is that if I vacuum the facility every night with our athletes, sorry, with our staff. I can't play the visionary role that I need for this business to grow and be successful. So you have to have stratification and you never have to feel like you're above a job. But, at the same time, there are times when you can step in and contribute in that.
But, when I heard that, "Sweep the sheds" kind of approach. What I think the bigger lesson is, is never make your problems somebody else's, right? Yes, no job was beneath the All Blacks, they took care of their own locker rooms, but more importantly, they viewed it more as, if we leave this locker room a mess, then someone else has to clean it up. And, I think that's the problem, is when you're in entrepreneurship, there's nobody to clean up for you. If you don't do your job, you don’t have a business.
And frankly, if you don't do your job, and someone even does try to do it. They're probably not going to do it as well as you do. So there is a time in entrepreneurship, right or wrong where you're going to have to take “the nevermind, I'll just do it” mindset and those are the people that we try to nurture, right? It's the people who never want to pass the buck and make their problems into somebody else's. And that comes back to the competency versus fit stuff.
Gary Bertwistle: It is a great book for all of us, put it on the top of your list. Read it, put it down, and then read it again. One followup question for you, Eric, as I said earlier in the show, you have a reputation of ... And this is a quote, "An encyclopedic knowledge of gyms and strength training." In the last three years with all you know and all you've done, how have your ideals of the industry changed?
Eric Cressey: That's a great question. Certainly I have perspectives on maybe the training aspect of things that have evolved, no doubt about it in the direction that I think we've gone. But, from a pure kind of industry perspective on the business side of things, that's an interesting one. I think I would say on the whole, things have gotten much more specialized, I know that just being in our baseball niche, it's hard to compete with what we do if you don't understand skill development, right?
So, in the past, you could be in a strength conditioning facility that trained baseball players, and you can do really, really well. Nowadays, you actually have to understand how and what you do from a strength and conditioning standpoint, fits into the analytics side of things, which fits into the skill development side of things. They're very, very integrated, so the developmental aspect of the industry is very, very specialized. So, I think that's maybe the first thing that I would say. It goes hand in hand with the fact that athletes tend to be more specialized than ever, whether it's right or wrong. It is what it is.
So I think that's one component of the industry that I think is pretty interesting, I'll say the other thing that I'm very intrigued to watch. I don't know if this is necessarily a true industry trend, but it's something that's worth looking at, and I actually talked about this a couple years ago in our fall seminar with a topic of Forecasting Fitness.
One of the things I'm actually very curious to see is how the college bubble in the United States burst. Many of our guys are international, I can't speak to where it is elsewhere, but if you look at the average cost of consumer goods in the United States, it goes up 2% to 3% per year, pretty consistently. If you look at college tuition and fees, it goes up by like 12%. So, it's outpacing like four times over to the point that I actually met with our financial advisor and he told us that when our four almost five year old daughters turn 18 and go off to college, I should plan on about $597,000 each for a four year university, assuming a private education.
When I heard that, there are many thoughts that go through my head. The first is, I'd rather give them each $200,000 to put in the stock market, buy them a Lamborghini and then send them to community college. So, that's the first one, but the second part of it is, I'm immediately thinking like when does this bubble burst? Because in the context of our industry, if you go and you get an exercise science degree right now, you're probably paying, I mean depending on where you go to school, it could be $80,000, it could be $600,000, who knows. I depends on the quality of education you're getting and what institution you choose and whether you live at home, or you have to get a rental in New York City, whatever it may be. And the problem is in our industry, if you get an exercise science degree, it doesn't make you more qualified than the dude who just spend $300 on a weekend certification. It gives you zero competitive advantage. It's a lateral move that costs you a half a million dollars. That doesn't even include the opportunity cost of what you were making if you were in the working world.
I'm very curious to see, A, does this college bubble burst? B, do people realize that 99% of the exercise science programs out there are complete scams, because it's not sustainable over the long hauls. I'll be honest with you, this past weekend, we hosted our fall seminar in Massachusetts and we actually hosted our business mentorship right afterwards. In a matter of two days, I talked to two separate people out of master degrees in exercise science. They're both people working in the private sector, they had no expectations of going into college or professional sports where a masters degree would be preferred on a job applications. If you're going to go do that, do it because it's going to give you some credential or some kind of educational experience that will better prepare you for the world.
Honestly, I can't tell you that there's a single university in the United States that delivers that education, cost effectively enough, where it outweighs saying, "Hey, set aside $5000 a year, go do a mentorship at Todd Durkin's facility and then go to EXOS and do an internship there. Come to see us if you do an internship with us. Take Mike Boyle's functional strength coach certification." You can do it so much more cost effectively on your own than you can with an academic curriculum that mandates that you do a bunch of core curriculum stuff, and that you just delve into stuff that only loosely relates to what you're actually going to do.
So, there's a very loaded answer for you, probably just talked a few people out of going back to college for exercise science, but hopefully I just saved a few of your listeners a quarter million dollars is something.
Gary Bertwistle: Save some cash. Eric, this has been terrific. When your name came through as a possible guest on this show, you're a guy that your reputation does precede you and it's been a complete honor to spend time with you here on the show. For those people who want to follow up, want to come and get education from you, where's the best hub to find you?
Eric Cressey: Yeah, absolutely. I'm easy on social media, it's @EricCressey on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, you can find me. And then the website, which is kind of my hub for the newsletter, the podcast, and the blog. It's just ericcressy.com. E-R-I-C-C-R-E-S-S-E-Y.com.
Gary Bertwistle: Thank you so much for giving us your time, your wisdom, your knowledge and being so honest in your sharing. It's been terrific.
Eric Cressey: I appreciate you guys having me, really had a good time.